The Senate’s Most Conservative Member: Eliminating Earmarks Won’t Save One Dime

Okahoma's James Inhofe has a message for the Tea Party movement -- don't be fooled by the "War On Earmarks."

Oklahoma’s James Inhofe has been called the Senate’s most conservative member by National Journal, he has a lifetime rating of 97.66/100 from the American Conservative Union and gets an A from the National Taxpayers Union, and he’s telling the Tea Party that the war on earmarks is the wrong battle to fight:

Tea party activists are stepping up their involvement in an internal Senate GOP battle over whether to ban earmarks – and Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe is pushing back aggressively.

Inhofe has engaged in a behind-the-scenes effort aimed at convincing tea party groups of the value of earmarks, including by circulating a 20-page document that makes the case that it’s Congress’ job to appropriate money and that a number of projects are rooted in the national and local interest.

The 75-year-old, four-term senator, who boasts of being the most conservative senator, has been relentless, according to several accounts.

Moments after the Tea Party Patriots issued a missive to 200,000 members backing the earmark ban, Inhofe tried to reach one of the group’s leaders on her cell phone. When he couldn’t connect, he tried again. When that was unsuccessful, his staff sent text messages urging her to call him back.

Finally, one of the group’s co-founders, Mark Meckler, returned Inhofe’s phone call Wednesday. It was a brief conversation, where Inhofe said he wanted to provide Meckler’s group with an essay entitled “the secret about earmarks” that said eliminating them “won’t save taxpayers a single dime.” And he urged Meckler to give the essay to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who is the chairman of the tea party-aligned Freedom Works.

That essay appears today at Politico, and Inhofe unloads both barrels against the “war on earmarks” crowd:

Shh! There’s a secret about earmarks: Eliminating them won’t save taxpayers one dime. Instead, the money will get turned back to President Barack Obama so he can direct spending as he sees fit.

In light of this, it is no wonder that Obama is willing to support the ban and join the Republican senators who, for years, have demagogued about congressional earmarks. On Election Day the American people sent the message to Washington that it is time to reduce government spending, repeal Obamacare and cut taxes. A moratorium on earmarks would only serve to increase the amount of money Obama has to spend.

This year, the House, in its earmark ban, defined “earmarks” as authorizations and appropriations — precisely what Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution states Congress is supposed to do.

So a ban on earmarks doesn’t save one dime. It does, however, do three things: 1) It trashes the Constitution and violates our oath of office; 2) it cedes Congress’s power to authorize and appropriate to the president, and 3) it gives cover to big spending.

Inhofe also addresses the argument that many on the right have made that earmarking helps increase overall spending:

Others call earmarks a gateway drug that needs to be eliminated to demonstrate that we are serious about fiscal restraint. There is just one problem with that: It’s not true.

Earmarks have steadily decreased over the past few years, according to the Office of Management and Budget and federal spending watchdog groups.

So while the total number of earmarks and the overall dollar amount of earmarks have been declining, no one argues with the fact that the Obama deficit has ballooned to $3 trillion in two years. Earmarks, then, are hardly a gateway drug, a symptom of federal spending run amok or even an underlying cause of our fiscal problems.

Here at OTB,  Dodd, James Joyner, and myself have all chimed in on the earmark debate over the past week, and while I do understand the argument for why the earmark debate is important, I think James hit the nail on the head when he said:

[U]nless eliminating earmarks coincides with a radical reconception of how our government operates, it may be a step in the wrong direction. The Feds spend billions on highways, airports, and other infrastructure projects.  Without earmarks, we’d basically have Federal bureaucrats deciding how to spend that money.  That may in fact be less wasteful and more efficient.  But I don’t see how this doesn’t constitute a major redistribution of discretionary power away from Congress — who’s supposed to decide how Federal funds are allocated — to unelected people not mentioned in the Constitution.

Inhofe makes a similar point in his essay and his entreaties to the Tea Party are spot on. If you’re really concerned about cutting spending, reducing government waste, and bringing the National Debt under control, then the solution is to put pressure on your lawmakers to undertake real spending cuts, not to fall for their efforts to divert your attention by demonizing a process that isn’t nearly as evil as its critics make it out to be, and which has little overall impact on the size, scope, and power of government.

I hope that Inhofe’s message resonates.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Economics and Business, Tea Party, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    “James M. Inhofe sponsored or co-sponsored 53 earmarks totalling $73259000 in fiscal year 2010 ranking 70th out of 100 senators.”

    http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/earmarks.php?cid=N00005582&cycle=2010

  2. A fact that can also be derived from his wikipedia page.

    That doesn’t surprise me, not does it defeat his argument

  3. While I am not opposed to reforming earmarks, it seems increasing obvious that most people who rail against them don’t even know what they are. Eliminating ‘earmarks” has become the new eliminating “waste” as a panacea for fixing our fiscal problems. Of course, focusing on either indicates either a profound lack of understanding of our fiscal problems or willful dishonesty on the subject.

  4. john personna says:

    I am really perplexed about this sudden campaign for earmarks. It is a bright new meme, late in 2010. It comes from the Right, right?

    Why?

    It’s not like you are making any argument that they reduce spending, reduce deficit, or improve national debt.

    Quite the opposite. You want us to believe that Senator Inhofe, and others, pare their spending down to a minimum, and then direct it where they want, with no conflict in intent. Seriously?

    Are you flying cover for a political patronage?

  5. john personna says:

    Steven, we can see lists of earmarks at sites like above.

    We can guess that they all look useful, as one-line titles. We can’t really know … until we get feedback, as we do from the military when they say “we didn’t want these trucks.”

  6. John

    As best as I can recall, the “earmark” rhetoric started a few years ago after an aggressive campaign by The Club For Growth and other groups

  7. john personna says:

    Maybe I just need to be clear, because the math seems hard for some people.

    When you buy (a) what you need to get the job done, and (b) extra stuff the bureaucracy doesn’t want, then you have spent too much.

    a + b > a

    whenever “b” is greater than zero

  8. john personna says:

    The anti-argument Doug, or this strange campaign in favor of them?

  9. @john personna:

    Just speaking for myself: I am not defending earmarks, per se. I do not have the same objections to having bureaucrats make some of these decisions that my OTB compadres do,

    However, my point is that Tea Partiers and others are acting like getting rid of earmarks is a deficit reduction move when it clearly is not. Further, of all the fiscal problems we have, earmarks are way down the list.

  10. John,

    I was referring to the campaign against them, which I misunderstood your question to be.

  11. john personna says:

    I could also go in the direction of: “if congress critters were not spending their time creating earmarks, could they find something more productive to do?”

  12. Steve,

    My basic view on earmarks can really be summed up as meh

    The Executive power/Legislature power argument is interesting and worth considering I think, but for me earmarks just aren’t a big deal considering the bigger problems that we have.

  13. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t believe the argument originated as purely fiscal. The argument originated when Congressmen told their constituents that $x billion went to a thimble museum in the district of the head of the appropriations committee, and the expenditure did not even appear in the law that directed it. (soft earmarks) And the voters think to themselves, WTF is wrong with Washington, they are not doing their job, they are not following the Constitution, and they are just treating the federal budget like a spoils system.

  14. PD Shaw says:

    IOW, earmarks have delegitimized Congress as an institution, not busted the budget.

  15. Jeff says:

    Nobody in the Tea Parties is claiming that removeing earmarks by itself helps the deficit … they know how small a percentage of the total they represent …. Its what earmarks represent that the Tea Party is against … the go along get along business as usual in DC needs to change …

    Of course earmarks are minor … and since they are so “minor” then why would anyone try to defend them ?

    Does anyone think that if an earmark ban is put into place that the Tea Party will claim “progress” on deficit reduction ? Really … ??? If you believe that then you really don’t understand the tea Party movement …

    Inhofe raises two huge strawman arguments when he claims that Predator drones and body armor would not have been funded without earmarks. Does any serious person really believe that ?

    Again if earmarks are so minor then removing them should’nt be difficult and then Inhofe can focus on really reducing the deficit …

    The only reason this gets any press is because it is a Red on Red fight … notice that there is no such discussion even going on in the Democrat party … they love them some earmarks …

  16. wr says:

    I do understand the Tea Party, and I agree that they won’t claim progress on deficit reduction once earmarks are eliminated. They will only claim that progress when tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy are extended permanently, thus blowing another trillion dollars out of the budget.

    Of course, their claim will make no sense, but it’s what their corporate overlords will tell them, and as long as they put the word “constitution” in there somewhere, the TPers will go along.

  17. mantis says:

    Nobody in the Tea Parties is claiming that removeing earmarks by itself helps the deficit … they know how small a percentage of the total they represent …. Its what earmarks represent that the Tea Party is against

    They’re against it because they’re against it. Good argument.

    Of course earmarks are minor … and since they are so “minor” then why would anyone try to defend them ?

    Some people think that Congress should have control over what gets spent on what in the states. That’s why.

    Does anyone think that if an earmark ban is put into place that the Tea Party will claim “progress” on deficit reduction ?

    Yes. Hell, teabaggers think Medicare comes from magical pixies instead of the federal government, so why would we assume they would make any sense on this issue?

    Inhofe raises two huge strawman arguments when he claims that Predator drones and body armor would not have been funded without earmarks. Does any serious person really believe that ?

    No, but then again, Inhofe’s an idiot.

    Again if earmarks are so minor then removing them should’nt be difficult and then Inhofe can focus on really reducing the deficit …

    Removing them doesn’t remove the spending, as has been explained countless times. It just puts control over the spending in the hands of the executive instead of the legislature.

    The only reason this gets any press is because it is a Red on Red fight … notice that there is no such discussion even going on in the Democrat party … they love them some earmarks …

    Actually, they know it’s a non-issue. Btw, I love the swipe at the press. Stop telling people what Republicans are talking about doing, you media meanies!